Meeting global and national climate goals requires action and cooperation from a multitude of actors1,2. Current methods to define greenhouse gas emission targets for companies fail to acknowledge the unique influence of fossil fuel producers: combustion of reported fossil fuel reserves has the potential to push global warming above 2 °C by 2050, regardless of other efforts to mitigate climate change3. Here, we introduce a method to compare the extraction rates of individual fossil fuel producers against global climate targets, using two different approaches to quantify a burnable fossil fuel allowance (BFFA). BFFAs are calculated and compared with cumulative extraction since 2010 for the world’s ten largest investor-owned companies and ten largest state-owned entities (SOEs), for oil and for gas, which together account for the majority of global oil and gas reserves and production. The results are strongly influenced by how BFFAs are quantified; allocating based on reserves favours SOEs over investor-owned companies, while allocating based on production would require most reduction to come from SOEs. Future research could refine the BFFA to account for equity, cost-effectiveness and emissions intensity.

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We thank P. Burns, P. Dargusch and D. Lee for helpful feedback on the original manuscript, and J. Escobar, Q. Fu, S. Iacovella, M. Navarro and R. Rekker for research assistance.

Author information


  1. UQ Business School, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Saphira A. C. Rekker
    •  & Jacquelyn E. Humphrey
  2. School of Chemical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Katherine R. O’Brien
  3. Energy and Poverty Research Group, UQ Energy Initiative, School of Chemical Engineering, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

    • Andrew C. Pascale


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S.A.C.R., J.E.H. and K.R.O. designed the study, J.E.H. and K.R.O. supervised the project. S.A.C.R. collected, verified, processed and analysed the data, and wrote the paper. A.C.P. and K.R.O. contributed to the data analysis. J.E.H., K.R.O. and A.C.P. reviewed and edited the manuscript. All authors contributed to the methods and interpretation of the results.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Saphira A. C. Rekker.

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